A Day in Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia

After just three days in Bali, I’ve come to a conclusion: I think I like it here! Shocking right? I mean, what’s not to like… it’s the tropics which means I get to wear a bikini and shorts all hours of the day, the food is delicious and spicy, the climate is hot and humid, the people are friendly, there is lush greenery everywhere, a peaceful, relaxed vibe emanates through the air, and most importantly: you can get an hour long massage for 6 ot 7 dollars1 For those of you who know me, I am extremely self-indulgent when it comes to cheap massages, so this alone won me over. My kind of place.

Two days in Sanur Beach, two massages, a few ocean and pool swims, and several Bintangs later, I decided to leave Bali and spend my final couple days before my yoga course begins at an even more chilled out island called Nusa Lembongan. Because, you know, life is hard and I need more peace and quiet. I arrived by speedboat, on which I met a sweet Canadian girl named Jennifer who was also traveling on her own. The two of us hit it off like old friends, as it goes in the solo traveler world.

The Indonesians do not kid around when they use the term “speedboat”. This thing was fucking fast, excuse my language. Jennifer and I were both in hysterics and gripping our seats as this 30-minute express boat flew over the waves, spending half its time airborne. There were about five signs on the boat that simply said “Insurance”. I wasn’t sure whether this meant “I hope you have insurance” or “We got you covered” but I decided it’d be better not to ask.

Jennifer and I parted ways once we arrived in Nusa Lembagnon, as we had both booked different bungalows, but our hopes were high that we would meet again soon. I found my bungalow, which is a cute little place with a porch that looks directly out on to the ocean (from which I am writing this blog), a pool, and a less than enthusiastic staff of 3 local boys. But I can’t have it all I suppose, although I’d like to think I can.

I wandered along the beach until I found a little beach cafe, adorably called “Turf & Surf” that had several people in it, which is usually how I decide on where to go. Epic fail on the food, but the view was great and the staff was more than helpful. I asked them how to get to Mushroom Bay, as I heard this was one of the best beaches on the island, and one of them told me he has a friend who will drive me there on his motorbike for 5 dollars. It was a deal. I finished my awful meal, and was introduced to “Bob” with the motorbike.

I hopped on the back and we were off. Indonesian Bob asked me why I don’t hire my own motorbike, and I told him I trust his navigation skills more than mine. It turns out Indonesian Bob was a full-service kind of guy. As he sped down the one narrow road on the island, dodging potholes and oncoming motorbikes, he told me he also teaches surfing, and can also teach me diving. And, he even can be a friend who can show me a great place to eat. But, I was hot and sweaty and just wanted to get into the water at this point, so I told full-service Indonesian Bob that a ride to Mushroom Bay would suffice.

As he dropped me off, he tried to hustle more business, understandably so. He told me he would also pick me up if I gave him a time to be there. I told him I wasn’t sure how long I would be, and he said “Two hours in the sun is probably plenty, don’t you think? I’ll be back in two hours.” I was waiting for him to ask me if I have plenty of sunscreen on. I felt like I was pleading with my Dad for more beach time, who coincidentally is also name Bob. I thanked him but said I would be fine on my own, and went down to the beach.

The beach at Mushroom Bay was beautiful, but definitely more crowded than I had anticipated. Tourism is clearly flourishing in the Indonesian islands, so I’m assuming it’s becoming more and more difficult to find secluded beach spots and it’s not nearly the same as it once was.

But my time in Bali has still just begun. My day in Nusa Lembongan has been a great one, but there is still plenty to explore. And now, I’m sipping a lemon iced tea on my bungalow patio as I finish this blog, realizing I have yet to find Jennifer, and contemplating a refreshing Bintang as the sun is getting ready to set.

20140409-164622.jpg

20140409-164641.jpg

20140409-164938.jpg

20140410-071933.jpg

Categories: Indonesia | 3 Comments

Call me Crazy, but I Love Airports

Most people I know despise airports. They would describe them as a complete pain in the ass, and understandably so- the torturous waiting in lines, the often times aggressive security staff that do such a remarkable job at making you feel like a potential terrorist that you actually start questioning it yourself, dealing with pushy crowds from all walks of life, and being forced out of a fit of hunger pains to purchase a 7 dollar muffin that tastes like it’s been sitting in the display case for three days.

Not too ideal, right?

I agree that there are a lot of annoying things you have to deal with when being in an airport, often while battling exhaustion and dark circles beneath the eyes. But, despite these nuisances, I personally love airports. For me, being in an airport conjures up a battlefield of memories of being in transit, both physically and emotionally. They are reminders of where I’ve been, what I’ve felt, what has inevitably passed, anticipation of what is to come, and that sweet spot that you only get to experience when in transit, that sweet spot of being “in between”. Neither here, nor there, but in between. No responsibilities or debts to either party. It smells like stale cold recycled air, but tastes like sexy freedom.

A certain wave of calmness always washes over me at an airport- after I successfully prove my innocence and get through security that is. I love sitting on a comfy chair where I can simultaneously airplane watch and people watch, wondering where others are coming from and going to, or just tune everything out altogether and read a book or do some writing.

As I sit here again, in an airport, on my way to the other side of the world in an hour, I can’t help but notice that this feeling has once again overtaken me, and my mind falls back to all sorts of sensations and memories I associate with being in this same situation through the years. Some pleasant, some not so pleasant, but all which have come and gone like waves of the ocean, leaving gentle marks. And here I am, still okay, still excited, still hustlin’, and feeling stronger than ever.

I think back to one of my most amateur hours of when I made the move to London with two huge rolling suitcases, a backpack, my lap top bag, and two large purses. I was so laden with luggage I could barely move, and two lovely British guys helped me with my bags and ushered me into a taxi on the other end.

I think back to the two and a half days I spent stuck in a Bolivian airport, because there was a fuel strike and no planes could fly. I met a terrified English girl and the two of us took turns sleeping while the other kept an eye on the bags. I must have eaten five subway sandwiches during what felt eerily like a cheap scene from Tom Hank’s movie The Terminal.

I think back to my big move to Bangkok, and that harrowing taxi ride I took from the airport by a Thai Buddhist driver who dropped me off at a whore house. In a case of mistaken identity, I thought it was a hotel, so I booked myself there for three nights. Enough about that. (see previous Bangkok posts for more details on this classy mishap)

I think back to the anxiety I felt before leaving the relative safety of the Delhi airport and walking out on the streets to face the music of India for the very first time.

I think back to when I had food poisoning in the Hong Kong airport and had to keep darting out of the Security line to gracefully puke my guts out in the trash can.

I think back to my 4 a.m. flight I took when leaving India, filthy and exhausted, and decided to treat myself to a fancy foot massage 30 minutes before boarding.

I think back to when my “tainted” backpacker girlfriends and I got stuck in the El Salvador airport on the way to Costa Rica, hungry, thirsty, delirious, but overflowing with excitement about our first big trip overseas. I think back to when these same backpacker girlfriends and I were mysteriously upgraded to first class on our way to Argentina because the airline had accidentally overbooked coach. Seriously- when does that happen? We indulged in champagnes and warm nuts like it was our first and last stint in First Class (which has regrettably turned out to be true).

I think back to being shoved up against the plane window for 8 hours because the obese man next to me, who just so happened to be missing an arm, couldn’t fit in his seat.

I think back to all the interesting, wonderful, and sometimes annoying people I had the joy of sitting next to on an airplane, exchanging stories, sometimes over a glass of bottomless wine (thank you, Virgin Airlines).

I think back to bittersweet goodbyes, exciting beginnings, what-the-hell-am-I-doing moments, and heartwarming returns. Feelings of nerves, anticipation, humor, fear, acceptance, and courage all mixed together. I think back to my family intensely watching me navigate through security, waving and jumping until they can no longer see me. I think of that feeling of suddenly being alone, but realizing I am okay with that, and that being alone is not nearly the same as being lonely. I think of my beloved Paulo Coelho and his books that have made hanging out in airports worth every minute. I think about wonderful moments of solitude and un-interruption as I peacefully relax in an airport cafe during a layover, sipping a caramel latte and writing my heart out.

So yes, airports can be a pain in the ass in many ways, and of course they come with their frustrations. But for me, airports represent so much more than that. They represent all the places I have been, the people I have met and experienced this with along the way, the unexpected humor and ridiculousness, the ways in which my patience and courage have been tested, and the transient nature of it all. And here I am, about to hop on a plane to Bali with a layover in Taiwan, filled with anticipation and those old familiar feelings that make me realize how impermanent they really are, but at the same time, how much of a beautiful mark it all leaves.

Categories: Blogs, Life and Inspiration | 2 Comments

Random Observations on a BART Train Ride Home

The girl in the seat in front of me is wearing a flowered skirt and wreaks of puke on this Wednesday night. Radiohead is playing on my Pandora and is breathing new life into me. A man-child with a well-thought-out goatee is swaying in a pin-striped suit, gripping the Bart hand rails like he’s on a rollercoaster ride. A mid-week jaunt to distract him from his corporate misery. As far as anyone can guess, we live in the same world. But I know the truth: I’m intentionally living on the periphery, carefully riding the edge of the wave without submerging myself. I like keeping one eye on the door and one hand on the handle.

Admittedly, my own agenda is too jam-packed between yoga, meditation, and my own personal development for any soul sucking demands and deadlines. I take a shallow breath as to not inhale any puke fumes from the flowery girl in front of me, who is now almost passed out with her face smashed against the train window. I look around and wonder… Does anyone else question their world and their decisions the way I do? Does anyone question their reasons for maintaining their carefully guarded perspectives? Or do we all just mindlessly herd ourselves like cattle in and out of the city each day? From the looks of it, I would say that generally people seem to prefer to keep their safely constructed ideas locked away, reverberating as a gentle hum in the soundtrack to their lives. The danger and fear in dismantling these ideas is far too great.

Not everyone has a loving and committed relationship with the unknown the way I do, I remind myself, as I touch up my lipgloss and take note that we are now in Oakland.

“Ride” by Lana Del Ray comes on my Pandora, and I officially feel like the music Gods are speaking to me. I am suddenly overflowing with contentment.

My freedom haunts me. The more I get, the more I want. The idea of impending freedom hits me like a heroin injection. I find it slightly insane and simultaneously flattering that people sometimes admit to me that they like my outlook on life. Are we living in a parallel universe? I feel it in my bones that I am right where I belong. Saying I march to the beat of my own drum is an understatement. I dance to my own jam.

Sometimes the truth is unveiled in the unlikeliest of situations. Someone is texting and I pay no attention. I’m in Orinda and time is running out. I treasure my BART ride solitude.

20140308-115037.jpg

20140308-115043.jpg

20140308-115055.jpg

Categories: Life and Inspiration | 2 Comments

Sab kuch milega

Indians have a phrase that I heard often during my travels through India. It is “Sab kuch milega” which translates to “Everything is possible”. At first I found this phrase annoying, as shopkeepers and tour guides would shout it at me during intense stand-offs as I try to bargain down the price of “authentic” jewelry or secure a reclining seat on a long-distance bus, only to find out that it wasn’t in fact possible. Or if it was, it came at a steep price.

But over time, I started to really appreciate this optimistic phrase. As I became more confident in maneuvering myself through the chaos known as India, I began saying it myself. If I were in the midst of a bargaining face-off and they say to me in English “Not possible, my friend”, I would shoot back in my best Hindi, “Sab kuch milega, my friend.” And they would roar with laughter and shake my hand, appreciating the fact I knew this great phrase. And generally I would leave the store with my chosen discounted price.

This morning, as I was having a small internal discussion with myself over future plans as I brushed my teeth and washed my face, this phrase popped into my head again. I started thinking about it and really appreciating the inherent optimism in it. It also made me realize that I do, in fact, believe everything IS possible and for the most part I have lived my life in accordance with this, before I had ever heard it spoken in Hindi.

I truly believe we are only bound by our own limitations, and for the most part we can do anything that we want to do. The only reason something wouldn’t be possible is if we talk ourselves into believing that it is not, or bury ourselves in a pile of fear. Of course, this is within reason; if your dream is to be a professional singer and you lack natural talent, then maybe it’s not possible. But what is possible is the WILL. We can try for absolutely anything. We are born in America and we have free will. We may not realize the magnitude of this until witnessing people in other countries who do not have this freedom we are born into. But we do, and we need to recognize that.

We are blessed to be alive in this world and must understand that it is only for a limited time. We have no idea how limited it will be, but it’s safe to say that each day we are one day closer to our demise. Everything in life points to the fact that we can and should all be actively working towards doing what fulfills our heart’s deepest desires, while we can.

Let me explain how everything is possible.

If you don’t like your job, you can quit. If you want to climb the corporate ladder in your career, you can do so with the right preparation, knowledge, and attitude. If you want to learn to cook, you can take lessons. If you want to go to college but can’t afford it, you can take out a loan or apply for grants. If you want to travel the world, you can purchase a plane ticket and go. If you want to rid yourself of anxiety, you can practice meditation or take pills (I advocate the former). If you want to improve anything about yourself, you CAN. Read books, get a mentor, ask for help. If you want to leave a relationship, you can walk out the door. You are not bound by any chains whatsoever. You have a mind and two feet (hopefully), and you can do anything you want to do.

I am in no way suggesting that any of this is easy. In fact, in certain situations it is difficult beyond reason. It can be extremely hard to make a change and go after your dreams, because the rule of thumb is that you generally must always sacrifice something else in order to do so. Sometimes you may even have to flip your entire world upside down. However, my question to you is, what are you sacrificing by NOT going after what you want?

You need to recognize the fact that it IS possible, and it is completely up to you to design your own life and decide what is worth going after and what is worth sacrificing. You have the absolute power to make these decisions.

People will claim they don’t have the power because they are worried about money, social pressures, or what may or may not happen down the road. But it is nonsensical. Social ties and money should never imprison you. Money is attainable everywhere, and it should be there to help us succeed in life, not to enslave us. I know lots of people, including myself, who have traveled parts of the world on very little money, or have worked all over the world, making money to fund their travels. Money should not be a reason to hold you back.

It is time to take a good hard look within yourself and realize that you are the creator of your destiny. You are free. You are bound only by your own limitations and your own fears. If you don’t like something, change it. If you want something, go after it. Decide on a goal and make a plan. Make this life one to look back on fondly and proudly. Everything is possible.

Sab kuch milega.

20140205-142123.jpg

20140205-142149.jpg

20140205-142206.jpg

20140205-142224.jpg

20140205-142230.jpg

20140205-142256.jpg

20140205-142355.jpg

20140205-142406.jpg

20140205-142424.jpg

20140205-143637.jpg

20140205-144457.jpg

Categories: Life and Inspiration | Leave a comment

I am Just Not Hippie Enough for you

We are both sprawled out in the soft sand, side by side on this weekday morning (Tuesday? Wednesday? We keep losing track). We are happily gazing into the ocean through our oversized sunglasses, watching the waves crash in and out, feeling the sun kiss our necks as it makes its morning appearance. We are sipping on our shakes, mine coconut and yours mango, and we don’t feel the need to trouble the moment with words. We both love the energy of intentional silence.

You are rolling a big joint for so early in the morning. You turn to pass it to me and I notice your rasta rings and hemp bracelets. Your dirty fingers and your unwashed hair.

I may or may not take a puff of your joint. I probably won’t, because it’s still early and I’m not a big smoker. But I do have a confession. Although it may appear otherwise, I have to be honest and tell you that I am just not hippie enough for you.

Sure, we both carry these rugged backpacks around India, fluttering from this village to that village on a whim or a hunch. Sure, I am currently sitting next to you on a deserted beach which is named after the sound of a meditation mantra, and it’s true that I am carrying books around with me about the seven chakras and the healing powers of our internal energy. Yes, I use words like “calling”, “zen”, and “vegan”. And yes, it’s true that I slept in a bamboo bungalow last night with nothing but a mosquito net and a fan. But trust me, I am just not hippie enough for you.

I’m aware that we reside in the same bungalow community, and that the walls of our crumbling huts are side by side and may collapse into each other shortly. And I know you may have your doubts, rightfully so, since each morning you wake up to find me swinging on a hammock and furiously writing down my thoughts, realizations, and detailed plans for the present moment. I know you catch me meditating every day as the sun is setting, which definitely doesn’t help my case. But really, I am nowhere near hippie enough for you.

I do enjoy your music, especially when you play it late at night in a drum circle with the other hippies on the beach, while a bonfire burns and women sway and convulse to the sounds of the drum and the ocean. I really love your drum and I actually have plans to buy one of my own from an angry Muslim man who owns a small instrument shop in the south of India. I even plan to have this angry Muslim man engrave “Om” into the side of my jambe which loosely means “peace”. But despite all the evidence, I am just not hippie enough for you.

So, why? You ask. How am I not hippie enough for you?

I am just not hippie enough for you because I brush my hair every morning and brush my teeth at least twice a day. I even floss. I would never dream of growing dreadlocks, and if there is a hot shower around, I am excited. If there isn’t, I will take a cold one in place of not showering at all. I’ve seen the look in your eyes as I strut past you with my towel and Dove-brand soap to the community “shower” which is really just a hose behind a bamboo contraption. I know you look down on me when you see my Pantene Pro-V conditioner in tow that I plan to detangle and soften my hair with, but I refuse to conceal it. I know that this is the moment it may cross your mind and get you thinking, maybe she just isn’t hippie enough for me. And you are right. I’m not, and I’m okay with that.

I believe in the beauty of shaved armpits, and I believe in the miracle of deodorant. I believe in washing my clothes, even though I am traveling through India. And I can only spend so much time swaying in hammocks, passing around joints, talking about the origins of philosophy and the arrangement of the cosmos. I get restless. I write postcards. I shave my legs religiously. Sometimes I wear mascara. I am just not hippie enough for you.

I love this beach with all my heart, and I will miss it when I leave here tonight on a midnight train. I have a plan and an agenda, and these things are not conducive with being hippie enough for you. You will remain here indefinitely, rolling your fourth joint of the day, speaking in circles about philosophy and the true differences in the effects between marijuana and charas. And guess what? I just don’t care. We exchange a final smile, and in that smile we finally see that we are cut from different fabric. I will always remember you, have respect for you, and will always wish you nothing but happiness. But this could never blossom into anything substantial, because you will stay and I will move on. I am just not hippie enough for you.

20140129-083137.jpg

20140129-084143.jpg

20140129-084154.jpg

20140129-084440.jpg

Categories: India | Leave a comment

The Reality of Reverse Culture Shock

It’s difficult to identify a more thrilling feeling than stepping off a plane in a country in which you don’t speak a word of the local language, and everything that lays before you is blank and unknown. Every step is a first step, and you are transformed into a curious, naive child again.

As you navigate yourself through the airport, your mind full of wonder and confusion, your heart pounding with anticipation, you gear yourself up for the mystery of the adventure that is to come. Your heart races as you step out of the aiport and into a brand new city in a brand new country. It even smells different. The air is heavy and polluted, and your skin tingles with the feeling of complete filth. You have arrived. And then, the crowds close in on you, dark mustached faces surround you, and you are greeted by screams and yells and grabs. Welcome. You are the foreigner.

I’ve experienced this feeling many times, and what I’ve found is that eventually you get used to these situations. For better or worse, you begin to become accustomed to the confusion, accustomed to the grime, and accustomed to being the center of attention in a land that knows you are “not from here”. A big part of me loves this feeling, and a part of me gets exhausted with it. But, over time, the unknown becomes the known. You grow used to standing on the edge of the unfamiliar, eagerly greeting it’s familiar unfamiliarity.

You spend weeks or months in this place, and eventually you no longer feel the culture shock you first felt. What originally surprised you and knocked you off your feet now becomes an accepted part of the way of life in this country. You learn to accept and even embrace things that originally shocked or appalled you. And playing charades in order to buy a cup of coffee becomes an accepted part of your morning routine.

Having spent much of my time in my twenties traveling and moving, I’ve acquired some experience with this. And what I’ve found is that very often for me, what’s more difficult than culture shock is reverse culture shock, which refers to the experience of coming back home to your own country and reintegrating with its values and ways of life after getting used to another’s. This is not to say I don’t love where I’m from, because I absolutely do and am extremely grateful for it. But there is something I be said for these transitions.

When traveling through foreign countries, there are usually others around you who are also sharing the same experience of everything being brand new and exciting. But when you come home, you suddenly may feel alone. Everything looks the same as you left it, everyone acts the same, but you feel very different inside. There’s been an inner shift. Depending on how long you’ve been gone or the intensity of your trip, these affects can range from mild to severe.

I remember after spending five months in Bangkok, I came home for Christmas. I decided to spend the afternoon walking through the downtown area of the suburbs in the neighborhood I’m from. I felt relaxed and peaceful from my time in Thailand. I had fallen in love with Bangkok, and I had fallen in love with the friendly, happy Thai people. I had also fallen deeply in love with their prices! But, as I was in a slow amble through downtown Walnut Creek, I began tuning in and observing people around me. I watched people push each other out of the way as they were trying to buy Christmas presents. I saw people not hold the door open for each other, or greet me with a roll of the eyes or a plastic smile. I saw people all around me, dripping in money and Gucci bags, and yet completely miserable looking. I suddenly felt anger and frustration, and embarrassment over the behavior of “my people”. I left Starbuck’s in a flash and ran to a Thai restaurant I knew existed down the street. I ordered a thai iced tea and took a seat. I took a taste of my $5 thai iced tea and a tear rolled down my cheek as I realized how shitty it tasted, and how much I missed Thailand. I was experiencing a case of reverse culture shock.

Traveling changes you, and most people will agree it’s for the better. It opens up your eyes and mind to new cultures, new ideas, and makes you reconsider what is important in life. That being said, it can also hurt you. Constantly going through transitions can take a toll, but I do believe that ultimately these experiences make you stronger and better equipped for the trials and tribulations of life. I can personally say I’ve grown a lot through my travels, and have also experienced a good amount of reverse culture shock. After being surrounded by people in poor countries, scraping by on a few dollars a day, yet happy and compassionate towards strangers, it makes you reconsider where you come from and your own behavior towards the value of money and treatment of strangers. After seeing people in difficult financial circumstances, yet sitting lovingly with their family and friends, it makes you analyze your own relationships, and tune in to your dinner outtings with friends where everyone sits around the table playing absentmindedly on their iphones. After seeing people face real problems in every day life, it makes you think twice on what you consider to be “real problems” back home.

I have four pieces of advice for anyone who is going through this, or has experience with this in the past. One is to be grateful. Be grateful for your experiences. Be grateful for where you come from, as well as where you have been. If it wasn’t for where you come from, you might have not had the opportunity to have been where you’ve been. Be grateful for your open mind, and for the strength and courage you possess to have left the comfort of your home and thrown yourself into these adventures.

My second piece of advice is to be patient. It’s normal to feel somewhat lost and confused after suddenly coming home and starting fresh, but this will pass and eventually you will feel happier and more balanced because of it. Nothing is permanent, not a situation nor a feeling.

My third piece of advice is to stay positive. Sure there are some bad things and people in this world, but from what I’ve witnessed the good far outweighs the bad. Focus on all the beauty and possibility of life.

And finally, my fourth piece of advice is to take what you have discovered and use it to create the change you want, in yourself and in the world. It may sound like a lot, but it is important for your fulfillment and for the benefit of others. As Gandhi says, “Be the change you want to see in the world”. There is a reason we go away, but remember there is also a reason we come back. Embrace it all.

And most importantly… Travel on, my friend.

20140114-113402.jpg

20140114-113452.jpg

20140114-113549.jpg

20140114-113623.jpg

20140114-113708.jpg

20140114-113836.jpg

20140114-113921.jpg

20140114-114126.jpg

Categories: Life and Inspiration | 4 Comments

India and Her Magic

India, where do I even start with you? I first want to tell you that I truly love you, even though you often overwhelm and frustrate me. I love your madness, your vibrant colors and disgusting smells, your blatant contradictions, your bleached purity, your holy cows that stubbornly block the middle of the road and refuse to budge even when I honk the horn on my motor scooter, your dizzying number of 32 millions Gods you worship, your road-side masala chai tea stalls where you sell scolding hot chai in flimsy plastic cups that burn my fingers, your religious mayhem, your “holy river” that is full of human bones and rubbish, your spiritual seekers and your often lost and sometimes found souls.

I love resting on well-worn filthy cushions in crumbling bamboo cafes sipping mango juice while I silently observe dread-locked travelers sitting in the lotus position, each on their own somewhat unique spiritual journey, trying hopelessly to find middle ground with one another as they pass a joint around. I love watching these seekers run in circles chasing something that nobody can actually put their finger on, because they haven’t yet realized that it doesn’t inherently exist. At the same time, I must admit I sometimes hate watching this because after a while it’s like watching re-runs of an old TV show that you’ve seen one too many times. At almost any budget guesthouse you stay at all over India, you will see this same scene again and again: Hippies sitting on cushions, stoned off their asses, absentmindedly engaging in conversations that range from philosophy to spirituality, to where to find the best hashish in town.

Aside from this, I have found there is a subtle force at play an India, a force that makes you subconsciously pull away from your travel companions to some degree and turn inward. There is no such thing as a safety net while traveling India, and even if there were, you wouldn’t want it to catch you. You want to fall. You want the battle wounds and you want the scars. You want to explore this strange and mystical land, to teeter on the edge of danger and safety, of sanity and absolute madness.

People often come here and leave forever changed. I believe that when one travels India, they don’t find themselves, but rather confront themselves. They confront the deepest part of their inner selves, and what they they find is a vast emptiness that is begging to be explored. This emptiness resides in all of us, but isn’t usually realized and appreciated the way it is when traveling through chaotic and mystical India. This emptiness I speak of may sound negative but it’s not; it’s the vastness of our soul that we rarely take the time to explore. The emptiness, or clarity, has always been there, but not until you are in a ravaged and contradictory place such as India does it finally get the chance for light to be shed upon it, and what you find is inner calmness and serenity.

What is it about India? I’ve heard somewhere that India is a place that is better left to be experienced rather than understood, and I couldn’t agree more. This place has grabbed me in a choke hold, as I knew it probably would and I can’t explain to you exactly why. It leaves one in a hopeless struggle between feeling satisfied and relentlessly yearning for more.

However, after nearly two months in India, I can honestly say that I am leaving this place feeling very content, with amazing memories, a few battle wounds, surreal stories, an open heart and a big smile on my face. I had been given so many warnings before coming to India, but what I have found is that sure you have your seedy paan-spitting wide-eyed creepers and scammers lurking in dusty corners, but mostly it is full of warm, friendly people who more than often go out of their way to help me out.

All the beautiful people I have met, the obnoxiously long train journeys, the rickshaw rides with half-drunk drivers asking me the same two questions (“What’s your country, Madam?” “Are you married, Madam?”), masala chai tea breaks every two hours, cultural explosions on every corner in the form of sadhus and babas, burning ghats, and endless rituals and puja ceremonies… All of these experiences have been ingrained in my heart and have made me realize more than I know how to put into words right now. But I can say this: India has provided me with plenty of challenges and experiences that have tested me in a multitude of ways and has made me feel stronger. And for this, I am grateful. India has worked her magic on me, and I leave here with nothing but love, compassion, and gratitude for my time here in this beautiful mixed-up country.

20131218-130059.jpg

20131218-130301.jpg

20131218-130329.jpg

20131218-130409.jpg

20131218-130439.jpg

20131218-130529.jpg

20131218-130347.jpg

20131218-130630.jpg

20131218-130729.jpg

20131218-130815.jpg

20131218-130846.jpg

20131218-130924.jpg

20131218-130952.jpg

20131218-131123.jpg

20131218-131226.jpg

20131218-131327.jpg

20131218-131412.jpg

Categories: India | 3 Comments

Memories and Indian Train Rides

On what I thought was to be my very last night with Tash and Lana in Goa, we enjoyed a stunning sunset at an old hippie bar called Curlie’s. As we were relaxing on some compfy cushions overlooking the Arabian sea, sipping beer and snacking on hummus and calamari, we decided to take turns telling our most memorable experiences together during the last couple of months. Lana mentioned the three of us sitting on top of the sand dunes in the middle of of the desert late at night near the Pakistani border, watching Babu and Bilal at the bottom of the dune put out the final flames of the small fire they had used to cook our meal. The three of us meanwhile were giving each other massages, watching for shooting stars, and playing word games that only two out of three of us could ever manage to catch on to at one time. We found it hysterical that we were having such trouble comprehending each other, and at the same time pinching ourselves at how surreal the moment was.

Tash brought up one of our afternoons during our trek to Poon Hill in Nepal. We were freezing cold and drenched from torrential rains by the time we finally reached a lodge that we were to bunk up at for the night. All the guesthouses looked identical, so we randomly chose one and walked in to discover they had a fire going and blistering hot showers (all for free- rare!). We each took a hot shower and then cozied up with our books in a corner table near the fire with Sam and Marco, our other travel companions. We then discovered there was a shop downstairs that sold wine and cheese, so we excitedly bought a bottle of wine and lots of cheese, and gracefully stuffed our faces, embracing false ambiance. The moment was perfect.

When it got to be my turn, I thought of the word “memorable” and what immediately popped into my mind was naturally a somewhat darker scenario we faced at the train station in Agra (Agra is where we visited the Taj Mahal- Taj Mahal is beautiful, but Agra is dump that has a continuous wave of shit smell floating through it). Train stations in India have now won the much deserved award as being my very least favorite part about traveling through this country. Complete chaos, but in a very grim and dreary sort of way. But, in keeping with the theme, I mentioned the moment we were leaving Agra. This was to my very first train ride in India. As we were waiting on the platform for our overnight train that was to to take us to Varanasi, all eyes were on us- we didn’t know whether it was because we were all foreign females or because Lana was wearing an outfit that looked like she had just jumped off the moon. Probably a combination of the two.

In any event, all we knew was that we had “sleeper class” assigned seats- in other words, essentially the compartments that anyone can pile on to, with or without a ticket. When the train suddenly pulled up, complete havoc ensued. People were hanging out of all ends of the train and nobody could get on. People were running around and shoving each other all over the platform. We frantically ran up and down the platform trying to figure out which train compartment we were assigned to without losing each other. When we finally figured it out, we were too late. We could not even squeeze on to the train it was so jammed packed, and nobody was budging. As we we were struggling to squeeze just a foot in, I glanced over my shoulder at Lana and Tash and noticed the color drain from both of their faces, and mild panic in their eyes. I realized we were all experiencing an “Oh, shit, I’m in India and I’m freaking out” moment. The three of frantically pushed each other on the train moments before it took off. We had no choice but to aggressively shove our way through the crowds, trying to detect which sleeper “bunk beds” belonged to us. When we finally found ours, they were about 10 people hanging from our beds. Being ferocious, assertive, and slightly anxious as we were, we demanded that everyone get up; they were in our beds!

I had unfortunately lost to Tash in a quick game of Rock Paper Scissors before we had hopped on the train, so I was penalized by having to deal with the awkwardness of the middle bunk (There is a top, lower and middle). As hoards of Indian men and women surrounded us intensely scrutinizing our every move, I somehow managed to squeeze my way into the middle bunk, between my big backpack which I had at my feet, my small backpack with valuables that I used as a pillow, and cradled my purse. I fished out my blanket and tried to find the most comfortable lying down position this bunk bed could afford to give me. There were about 6 inches at best between my head and the bunk that Lana was staying on above me. I was in shock at the intensity of the situation and dreading the discomfort I was to endure for the next 15 hours or so. But I felt relieved I was in my nook. In fact, we all were simultaneously relieved and appalled. That’s when I heard Lana shout down at some man “Excuse me, stop looking at me!” We all looked at each other and exchanged a few nervous laughs. I held out my palm so Lana could drop me a couple valium, as the only way to endure this type of situation is with chemical assistance.

I naturally woke up in the middle of the night needing to pee. I felt someone leaning against my bag so I shot up and glared at him with the most evil eyes I could muster. He returned the evil glance, and I’m also pretty sure he won. I leaned over my bag and glanced down the corridor of the train to where I would need to make my way to the toilet, only to find it absolutely covered with people sleeping in any nook they possibly could. Some people were just standing, ominously staring into space. Others were dangling from bunk beds. Others were curled up on the floor in the midst of heaps of trash. It was a complete obstacle course trying to make my way to the toilet. I will spare you the toilet scenario I had to work with, but it wasn’t pretty. I made my way back to my bunk, shimmied my way back in to my nook, and had no choice but to pop another valium and crank up the volume on my headphones.

The next thing I knew, light was pouring in and my iphone was dead. I opened my eyes and tried to peer out the barred up windows. I felt like I was in prison. I then heard the magical sound of a man walking through the train compartments singing “Chai! Chai!” Music to my ears. Lana and I shot up, bought two tiny plastic cups of masala chai tea for 5 rupees each and made our way to the door of the train that was wide open. We sat there and woke ourselves up by sipping chai and polking our heads out the door to allow the dusty wind of India to blow through our hair. Good morning! We were almost in Varanasi, known to be the most culturally and spiritually intense place we had yet to come across. We smiled at each other, wiped the sleep from our eyes, and gave a quick cheers to making it through our first train ride together.

20131208-152917.jpg

20131208-152938.jpg

20131208-153428.jpg

20131208-153514.jpg

20131208-153553.jpg

Categories: India | 2 Comments

A Tale from the Thar Desert of India

Would you believe me if I told you I spent three days in the Thar Desert on the Western side of India, less than 10 km from the Pakistani border, riding a camel while high on opium and hash?

Whether you believe it or not, this is my shameless story.

This excursion was by far one of the most rugged, non-touristic “tours” I’ve ever embarked on. Accompanied by my Australian travel soul mates Tash and Lana, we set out from the beautiful desert fort town of Jaisalmer and into the desert. We each were assigned our own camel, led by our camel leaders Bilal and Babu. My camel unfortunately took a bit of taming. Each time I mounted him, he roared and yelped and tried to buck me off, but I held on for dear life and eventually we came to a compromise. I was not to make any sudden movements or drink water as the sound of the bottle irritated him, and he was not to keep trying to buck me off of him into the thorny bushes. Bilal informed me that my camel was a boy and his name was Maria, so I couldn’t help but conclude that maybe this emasculation played a negative role on the camel’s psyche. Eventually this strange creature allowed me to ride him in a somewhat peaceful yet terribly uncomfortable fashion. Sometimes he would walk straight through large cactus plants and I had to lift up my feet at the very last moment to avoid getting completely cut up. This treatment made me feel a touch of resentment towards Maria. It made me want to take a big loud gulp of water from my bottle just to piss him off. Needless to say, our relationship and trust for one another never fully blossomed.

The three of us girls traversed through the rugged desert terrain for three days, stopping for breaks under the shade of trees so Bilal and Babu could boil us some masala chai tea and cook us a meal, consisting of chapati and vegetable curry. The food was delicious, but I did take note that they washed all of our plates and pots with nothing but the sand of the desert.

While they cooked us dinner, the three of us would rest in the shade, reading and chatting. That’s when Babu, with a shady grimace on his face, asked us if we wanted any opium from Pakistan, as he knew of a village nearby that supplied it. At first we hesitated, but after some irrational reasoning and a few laughs, we decided to give it a shot. He ran off to a village on the Pakistani border and retrieved for us a bag of opium, which we mixed into our daily masala chai at lunch and dinner time. We also had some hash cookies we had purchased in town, so we snacked on those along the way as well.

Bilal, the leader of the expedition, wore a turban and long Indian dress, and wore a smile that exuded peace and contentment. His dark leathery skin and deep wrinkles revealed a barren life spent in the desert, and his eyes emanated years of secretive desert tales and wisdom gained from this unapologetically dry and barren land. One night as we were sitting around a fire, we asked him to tell us a desert story. From his broken English and our slight opium high, all we managed to take away from the story was that a South Korean girl had gotten lost on a trip out on in the desert and if we see a ghost we should immediately throw three cups of water on it. A lovely bed time tale to send us off to sleep.

The camel rides became more surreal as the opium and hash kicked in (although it should be noted that the “opium” was extremely mild). We constantly found ourselves in fits of giggles, needing to pinch ourselves at the unique and raw situation we had intentionally gotten ourselves into.

In the evenings after we finished riding our camels, we would climb up the silky soft sand dunes and watch the sunset. There was not a soul in sight, just us in the middle of the desert. From the top of the sand dunes we could see the dim and dreary lights of Pakistan. We threw down a few blankets that Bilal and Babu provided for us, and slept under the stars. At night it got quite cold, so the three of us snuggled for warmth and read each other stories from my Buddhist book on Compassion until we drifted off to sleep.

The silence in the desert is deafening. Unlike my time spent in jungles, the desert is a very different type of silence. It is virtually lifeless, other than the occasional camel, goat, and bird fluttering by. Other than that, there is nothing but emptiness. The desert is beautiful, but extremely hot and barren, sparing only those who can withstand its blinding sun and harsh terrain.

But this is India. India is full of variety, full of craziness, and full of emptiness. The three days in the desert were just what we needed, allowing ourselves to take a break from the chaos we had so far endured and just spend time with one another in silence. I could never imagine living my life in this harsh terrain, and I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sorrow and compassion for Babu and Bilal who know of no other way of life. But then again, maybe because this barren simplicity is all they know, they are better off for it, more peaceful because of its dusty solitude. We all have our own ways of finding and accepting peace, and I feeI grateful for having gotten a taste of this side of India.

20131125-111940.jpg

20131125-111836.jpg

20131125-112034.jpg

20131125-112049.jpg

20131125-112111.jpg

20131125-112124.jpg

20131125-112140.jpg

20131125-112158.jpg

20131125-112205.jpg

20131125-112217.jpg

20131125-112235.jpg

20131125-112311.jpg

20131125-112401.jpg

20131125-113413.jpg

Categories: India | 5 Comments

My Very First Conversation in India

I hopped off the plane in New Delhi with a bag full of warnings, tips, and precautions which were all swirling around my mind as I made my way through Immigration. Since it was my initial solo debut to this chaotic sub-continent, I decided to be extra safe and booked a pre-paid taxi from inside the airport. I then walked outside and pushed through the masses of Indian men staring at me with big blank empty eyes. I figured I should start practicing the advice I had been given, so I avoided all eye contact, acted like it was just another ol’ casual day in Delhi for me, and found the pre-paid taxi stand. A man immediately approached me, grabbed my pre-paid ticket, and ushered me to his taxi. I sussed him out and concluded he was actually quite dodgy looking, but I figured that maybe that’s just India and he was probably as legitimate as they come. He threw my bags in the backseat and invited me to sit in the front. I slightly hesitated, as I recalled my friends telling me to be rude and not to talk to any taxi drivers whatsoever, but there was no room in the backseat so I took my chances and hopped in. I also noted that he was quite a bit smaller than me and very unhealthy looking, so if need be, I could probably take out the little sucker.

Thus begins my very first conversation in India, with my taxi driver. He first started gently, asking me if it was my first time in India. I slowly and confidently said “yes”. He then asked me if I was all alone. I slowly and confidently said “no”, that my friends were waiting for me at the guesthouse he was taking me to. I faked a quick phone call to add an extra element to my bullshit. Then the pace of the questions picked up. The more questions he asked, the quicker they got until they were flying at me at breakneck pace. I could barely finish answering one, when he was already half way through his next question. Below is how our conversation unfolded, and keep in mind that breakneck speed…

“Where did you fly from?”-Taxi Man
“Kathmandu in Nepal”- Me
“Are you married?”- Taxi Man
“Yes”- Me
“Where your husband?”- Taxi Man
“He was with me in Nepal, but couldn’t come to India” – Me
“When do you see him next?” – Taxi Man
“Two weeks” – Me
“Do you love him?” – Taxi Man
“Very much” – Me
“Where did you get married?” – Taxi Man
“Zimbabwe”- Me (I decided since I was already lying, I might as well be creative with it)
“Are you rich?- Taxi Man
“No”- Me
“Do you have mother and father?- Taxi Man
“Yes”- Yes
“Is your father rich?”- Taxi Man
“No”- Me
“Are you rich?”- Taxi Man
“No”… again – Me
“You have child?”- Taxi Man
“Yes, one daughter”- Me (why not!)
“How old?”- Taxi Man
“Two next March”- Me
“What’s her name”- Taxi Man
“Shaniqua”- Me
“Does she look like you?”- Taxi Man
“Kind of, but she’s a bit smaller”- Me
“Why were you in Nepal?”- Taxi Man
“Visiting my friend”- Me
“Man or woman?”- Taxi Man
“Woman”- Me
“Without husband?”- Taxi Man
“My friend has a husband, and so do I”- Me
“What does she do for work?”- Taxi Man
“Manages a hotel”- Me
“How many rooms does the hotel have?”- Taxi Man
“About 100″- Me
“WOW, big hotel. She must be very rich. Do you want whiskey?”- Taxi Man
“No, I’m okay”- Me
“Do you drink?”- Taxi Man
“No”- Me (oh, the lies…)
“Do you want hashish?”- Taxi Man
“No, thanks”- Me
“Do you like India?”- Taxi Man
“Well, I’ve only been at the airport and in your taxi so far, but the people seem friendly and inquisitive”- Me
…Just then, a motorcycle clipped the side of the car I was sitting in and knocked off the side mirror so that it was dangling. He threw a fit and yelled for a minute, and then quickly turned his focus back to the interrogation. I stifled a laugh. I was no longer afraid, just entirely amused.
“Where were you before Nepal?”- Taxi Man
“China”- Me
“Big country!”- Taxi Man
“Yeah, it’s pretty big”- Me
“Is China close to Nepal?”- Taxi Man
“Yes, it borders Nepal”- Me
“How long was the flight from China to Nepal?”- Taxi Man
“About three hours”- Me
“What did you eat on the plane?”- Taxi Man
“We didn’t get food”- Me
“Not even Coca Cola?”- Taxi Man
“No, not even Coca Cola”- Me
“That’s bad, that’s no good at all”
“It’s okay, I’ve made my peace with it”

And on we went for thirty minutes or so. After some time I sort of dazed out, absent-mindedly answering his questions, but I felt I finally understood all the warnings people had given me about not talking to taxi drivers.

Welcome to India!

20131103-083524.jpg

Categories: India | 4 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com. Customized Adventure Journal Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers

%d bloggers like this: